February 08, 2024

Storytelling (Part II)


In September of last year, sessions with my therapist were devoted to discussing the meaning of The Secret. I'm not sure how we came upon the subject. I had been seeing the therapist bi-weekly for almost two years. Our topic had been the obfuscate role of sex and its various sub-plots. Often we strayed back into the past, to the role of the mother, formative moments in sexual development, pivotal moments in past relationships. When discussing the present, we were often concerned with minutiae, and whole hours could be spent discussing a single gesture, a flaccid penis, an inflection in a particular phrase. He had trained the value out of my fifty-minute speeches--rather than speak about mistakes and missteps, things merely unfolded as they did--it was nobody's fault, or rather fault no longer mattered. This existential approach was a stratagem designed to free me, open up the present into possibility. He laughed at Freud, who I was reading at the time, and when I would turn a tangent into a soliloquy only Freud could love, I would catch him snickering into his hand. It isn't psychoanalysis--that's out of style--but rather a self-centered therapeutic approach, individualistic. I talk myself out of myself, and what I say could only apply to and could only ever hope to help me. Each visit he places a blank form on his clipboard and writes in a barely legible script. He is reluctant to let me see what he writes, and as far as I can tell his notes are filed in a dark place, never to be looked it. He knows that I write, and often gives me essayistic assignments to discuss at our next session. It is his way of deferring my questions to him, which he usually responds to with a writing assignment and more questions that reflect my own need to question him in the first place. He is a practical man, more fitness trainer than psychologist.

I meet my therapist in a glassy office building bordering an interstate. His office is one of many different offices in the building, and I imagine each is windowless like his, each decorated with the generic prints of lilies and roses like his, each populated with the same barely adequate office furniture. Between us is a small table on which a box of Kleenex sits, which I have never had use for. I enjoy seeing who else is in the waiting room with me. Who comes before and after. A transgendered person. A well-dressed couple clutching a book on teenagers called What Are They Thinking?. I read magazines.

I brought up The Secret in order to not talk about something else--that is how these things are usually brought up. Once the legalities of the situation had been settled, I began to speak. During that time, the therapist would yawn occasionally into his fist, sometimes marking something on his piece of paper. Only I thought the story was anything but banal.

Of course, no revelations came. None ever do. You go to your therapist with a monologue already prepared. As I sat there and told his tales over and over again to the therapist, appearing to dig under the layers toward pure meaning, the goal was merely to convince, never discover. No amount of talking could ever go deeper than the depths I had already plumbed.

At first, embarrassed by this, I argued with myself as my therapist silently took notes. I questioned my own assumptions, engaging in a dialectic that I hoped would be the catalyst for some breakthrough, a flood of tears, a gasp of illumination. I only ever ended up convincing myself. The hour would end, my eyes would rest on the clock, then the jacket, the door knob, the goodbye. I left lighter, but not any deeper.

The therapist's role is to read between the lines of his patient's story for a particular problem, and then to devise practical and theoretical strategies for extracting the patient from that problem. In the paradigm of my therapist's office, problems become problems when you decide that they are problems. Someone might decide that having five drinks a week constitutes a problem. To someone else, that limit is reached at fifteen drinks a week.

Is The Secret a problem? The therapist discussed him as an allegory. What needs are being screened when I close my eyes and picture his face? How do I feel when he doesn’t return my calls? What don’t I talk about with him? What topics am I too worried to bring up? What idyll do I pretend this is? What does it lack?

Instead, I resist: creepy is a word that comes to mind. That’s good, that’s a start. An expression of emotion, and a negative one at that, so it must be true, it must feel raw. Creepy. Can you say more? I have to stop myself and ask the question: Are there instances in which an aspect of one’s life can be creepy and beneficial at the same time? But you said creepy—therefore, we should eradicate it, cleanse it from you, unravel the needs that perpetuate it. I must ask myself the question again—can there be negative aspects to one’s life that are nonetheless beneficial, or am I really looking for the perfect balance, a narcotized stasis? Will there ever be an end, if I started? Couldn’t I end up combing the microcosms of my psyche for the tinniest nit or hangnail? When do we accept? Shouldn’t I stop at this point, count my losses, and, without losing sight that I am walking the edge of a psychopathy, let this creepy symbiosis bring forth whatever it is that attracts me?

Sometimes, these divergences can stay. They tempt you from a particular route you are all too willing to escape. You walk up the nondescript corporate landscape of your therapist’s office building, troubled by an apercu. You touch your tongue to it, like the bud of a wisdom tooth emerging from your skull. You take its path, and perhaps avoid an accident that was lying in wait for you. You didn’t really expect an epiphany, did you? Or you are sitting in the dark office at a quarter to eight in the evening, after everyone else has gone home, even the cleaners, as I am doing so now, writing this. You have no where to go and a serious task to complete, but you diverge, dreaming of The Secret. It’s a fertile dream, but utterly pointless, it accomplishes nothing. You imagine him sliding off the wintery road, tumbling down the embankment, his Jeep Grand Cherokee with the leather interior flipping once, twice, his heart exploding in his chest—you have felt it beat. And did it ever occur to you that you are nothing to him as well? Just a distraction? Something to do in order not to do another thing? You picture him at the foot of his mother’s bed, guilty because he doesn’t feel anything. Now he's with you, and in the static between channels that you represent to him, his own stories recede in lurid, malleable colors. You are indebted to each other. He has told you stories. And you owe him for such a beautiful array of distractions.

Posted by jason at February 8, 2024 07:59 AM